Tchaikovsky's nearly 50-minute-long Trio in A minor for Piano, Violin and Cello is his chamber equivalent of the late symphonies: a dramatic, overtly emotional and self-revelatory display piece--as showy an example as exists of the non-intimate uses to which the intimate muse can be put.
It is also star fodder, a score that can survive, even blossom, in the hands of virtuoso players going their own ways, with the proviso that their fingers and minds meet at crucial cadential junctures. Artur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky proved it could be done with their celebrated (but truncated) 1940s recording, reissued on CD a couple of years ago (RCA Victor 7768, mid-price).
Pianist Yefim Bronfman and violinist Cho-Liang Lin might be regarded as modern-day counterparts of RCA's stellar duo, while their partner, cellist Gary Hoffman is a lesser-known quantity.
Their encounter with the Tchaikovsky Trio (Sony 53 269) distinctly emerges as a series of individual turns, with Bronfman undermining his characterful, if rather fast-paced work with some momentum-shattering rubatos in the shorter of the work's two movements, the still vast "Pezzo Elegiaco."
The entry of Lin's sweet-toned, vibrato-laden violin should slow the pace but doesn't, and Hoffman seems recessive in this company.
The fitting companion piece is the more tautly constructed D- minor Trio of Anton Arensky, a Tchaikovsky sound-alike, energetically and unfussily presented by the same players.
There's more the sound of an ensemble in the Tchaikovsky Trio presented by another assemblage of free spirits: pianist Cecile Licad, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and cellist Antonio Meneses (EMI 54800).
The first movement is more smartly paced than Sony's, decidedly to the benefit of the music. Salerno-Sonnenberg's work is particularly strong and shapely here, Meneses' is elegant, and Licad's purposeful, if a shade overassertive here and there.
The coupling is the Brahms Trio, Opus 40, with hornist John Cerminaro setting the tone of relaxed warmth for Salerno-Sonnenberg (who begins unsteadily) and Licad.
There's more intensity--without sacrificing the Brahmsian mellowness--in a super-budget edition from Budapest (Naxos 55041) of the Horn Trio in which Jeno Kevehazi, tougher-toned than Cerminaro, joins the ubiquitous pianist Jeno Jando and an impressively powerful violinist named Ildiko Hegyi.
The disc further includes music by an obscure composer with a familiar name, Herzogenberg: not Elisabeth, Brahms' lifelong friend, but her husband, Heinrich. His pleasantly lightweight Trio, in the vein of Schumann's character pieces but with a "hunting" scherzo straight out of the Brahms Trio, is superbly delivered by oboist Jozsef Kiss, hornist Kevehazi and Jando.
The imaginative program is rounded out by what may be the ur -horn trio: a slender creation, circa 1800, by the French virtuoso and pedagogue Frederic Duvernoy.
With the Oistrakh Trio--violinist David Oistrakh, cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky, pianist Lev Oborin, none of them with us any longer--you had it all: individual virtuosity, ensemble cohesiveness, interpretive fire.
All those qualities are strikingly applied by these artists to the great Russian trio of the present century, Shostakovich's Opus 67, in a Chant du Monde/Praga release (254 054) of a 1961 live performance from the archives of the Czech Radio.
The same CD offers stunningly accomplished, idiomatic readings of the Shostakovich Third and Fourth Quartets from, respectively, the Glinka and Taneyev Quartets, likewise from Czech Radio broadcasts. Not to be missed.
Finally, a return engagement by the original Beaux Arts Trio, comprising pianist Menahem Pressler (who remains the linchpin of today's ensemble), violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse: Their 1965 set of the Beethoven Trios, still, to this listener's ears, is unsurpassed for their risk-taking energy and their grandeur, now superbly remastered and economically fitted onto three mid-priced CDs (Philips 438 948).